Keith Emerson, the English musician best known as keyboardist for prog-rock titans Emerson, Lake & Palmer, has died at age 71. Emerson’s bandmates confirmed his death via Facebook, stating that he died at home in Santa Monica.
Emerson was born in Todmorden, Yorkshire in 1944 and returned with his family to Worthing, West Sussex after the conclusion of World War II. He studied classical music growing up and began playing the Hammond organ as a teen, later switching to Moog synthesizers after hearing Wendy Carlos’ seminal Switched-On Bach. He rose to fame as a member of prog-rock band the Nice in the late ’60s before linking up with Greg Lake and Carl Palmer in 1970.
ELP went on to become one of the defining bands of 1970s prog. They were known mostly for meticulously crafted albums and live performances full of elaborate instrumental flourishes, though their 1977 single “Fanfare For The Common Man/Brain Salad Surgery” did go to #2 in the UK. After ELP broke up in 1979, Emerson maintained a successful solo career and formed a new project called 3 before later reuniting with both ELP and the Nice for further recording and touring. He also made an album with Lake and Cozy Powell under the name Emerson, Lake & Powell in 1986. His last release was 2012’s The Three Fates Project with Marc Bonilla and Terje Mikkelsen.
Along with peers such as Yes’ Rick Wakeman, Emerson’s classically informed style and arena-rock flamboyance helped to define the sound of a genre. He will be remembered as one of the most influential and technically astounding keyboard players in rock history.
Palmer shared this statement:
I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend and brother-in-music, Keith Emerson. Keith was a gentle soul whose love for music and passion for his performance as a keyboard player will remain unmatched for many years to come. He was a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of rock, classical and jazz. I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humor, compelling showmanship, and dedication to his musical craft. I am very lucky to have known him and to have made the music we did, together. Rest in peace, Keith.
UPDATE: According to TMZ, police are investigating Emerson’s death as a suicide. Emerson had a single gunshot wound to the head when his girlfriend found him in their home in Santa Monica. He had recently been suffering from a degenerative nerve issue in his right hand which limited him to playing his keyboard with eight fingers, and it would get progressively worse. He was reportedly struggling with depression after this diagnosis.
UPDATE 2: Santa Monica Police confirm Emerson’s death has been ruled a suicide.